Tag Archives: Miloš Kopecký

CAPSULE: PRAGUE NIGHTS (1969)

Pražské noci

366 Weird Movies may earn commissions from purchases made through product links.

DIRECTED BY: Miloš Makovec, ,

FEATURING:, Milena Dvorská, , Lucie Novotná, Teresa Tuszyńska, Josef Somr

PLOT: An executive in Prague on business goes trolling for female companionship, which he finds in a mysterious woman who regales him with three macabre tales through the night, and who seems to desperately want something from him before sunrise…

Sill from Prague Nights (1969)

COMMENTS: The anthology or portmanteau film has been a staple of both foreign and domestic horror filmmaking.  Kwaidan and Spirits of the Dead come readily to mind, but there are more examples than you’d think, especially in the 1960s. Prague Nights did not do well when released in Czechoslovakia, and didn’t get much exposure internationally, so it’s not well known; a bit surprising, considering the pedigree of those involved: Jiří Brdečka (acclaimed director of animation and co-writer of Invention for Destruction, Baron Prásil, The Cassandra Cat,  Lemonade Joe, and The Mysterious Castle in the Carpathians), Evald Schorm (known more at the time as a documentarian), and Miloš Makovec. Brdečka originated the project, although he only directed one segment, “The Last Golem”; Schorm handled “Bread Slippers,” and Makovec helmed the last story, “The Poisoned Poisoner,” as well as the framing episode “Fabricus and Zuzana.” Shot during the Prague Spring of 1968, the film has barely a whiff of the sort of political commentary/allegory that one might expect. This is light entertainment, and perhaps not as horrific as one might expect from the material—there aren’t any big scares here, although you might get some minor frissons during “Golem” and “Slippers.” If there’s any examination of politics, it’s sexual politics.

“The Last Golem” takes the legend of The Golem of Prague as its basis, featuring  Rabbi Loew as a main character. The Emperor and Rabbi Loew bash heads; the Emperor wants Loew to resurrect the Golem, and Loew refuses. Seeing an opportunity, Rabbi Naftali Ben Chaim (Jan Klusák, the actor and composer who provides the music for “Bread Slippers,” but who may be best known as a questionable clergyman in Valerie and Her Week of Wonders) will do the Emperor’s bidding, creating another Golem despite being distracted by a mute servant girl (Lucie Novotná) who arouses his lust.

“Bread Slippers” is a variation on The Red Shoes merged with “Faust.” A Countess (Teresa Tuszyńska) is self-centered, manipulative and very cozy with her maid. She’s stringing along her latest suitor, and makes a plan to attend a costume ball in slippers made from bread (after learning that amongst the poor, bread is worth its weight in gold). She arrives at the function, but unexpected guests also show up…

“The Poisoned Poisoner” is the shortest of the tales, with no spoken dialogue. It’s accompanied by songs that narrate the action. In a medieval setting, an innkeeping couple help make ends meet by poisoning wealthy suitors and looting their corpses, until the proprietress falls for a resourceful suitor—much to the chagrin of her partner.

The perfidy of woman is a running theme, set up in the framing “Fabricus and Zuzana.” Zuzana consistently warns Fabricus with lines such as, “Every beautiful woman is dangerous—but me even more than most.” “Be careful or you’ll regret it. What did he regret? He trusted a woman.” Notably, this “perfidy” always centers around true love, as the main characters in all the segments meet their fates as a result of romance revealing itself to be false. That, however, might just be a surface reading. As with most anthologies of this type, they’re essentially morality tales, and the downfall of the characters originates in betrayal, leading to a trip to Hell… literally, in this case.

Prague Nights ends up as a stylish, literate, and lighter version of the horror anthologies that studios like Amicus would begin to churn out in the near future.

HOME VIDEO INFO: In 2023 Deaf Crocodile released a Region A Blu-ray of a restoration of Prague Nights for its first U.S. release. Included is an audio commentary with Czech film expert/critic Irena Kovarova and critic/screenwriter Tereza Brdečková, the daughter of Jiří Brdečka. Brdečková also contributes an essay on the making of the film in the booklet and an interview on her father’s career. The set includes two of Brdečka’s animated shorts, “Pomsta” (“Revenge”) (1968, 14 min.), and “Jsouc na řece mlynář jeden” (“There Was A Miller On A River”) (1971, 11 min.).

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“There’s enough sinister material here for this to squeak by into the horror genre, though dark magical realism is probably a better way to approach the project as it also has a dreamy, whimsical attitude capped off by a wild flourish at the end.”–Nathaniel Thompson, Mondo Digital (Blu-ray)

(This movie was nominated for review by MST68, who described it as having a “wonderfully creepy atmosphere.” Suggest a weird movie of your own here.)

47*. THE MYSTERIOUS CASTLE IN THE CARPATHIANS (1981)

Tajemství hradu v Karpatech

366 Weird Movies may earn commissions from purchases made through product links.

“This story is not fantastic ; it is merely romantic. Are we to conclude that it is not true, its unreality being granted ? That would be a mistake. We live in times when everything can happen — we might almost say everything has happened. If our story does not seem to be true to-day, it may seem so to-morrow, thanks to the resources of science, which are the wealth of the future.”–Jules Verne, “The Castle of the Carpathians”

Recommended

DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: Michal Docolomanský, , , , Evelyna Steimarová

PLOT: Despondent after a failed love affair, Count Teleke explores the Carpathians with his manservant in hopes of forgetting his misfortune. The pair discover a mysterious castle on a mountainside and a man half buried in the road, and make their way to the village of “West Werewolfston,” where they learn more legends about the stronghold. Accompanied by the buried man, a civil servant who’s also obsessed with the castle, Teleke decides to investigate the mysterious edifice, where an evil Baron and a mad scientist are developing a powerful weapon.

Still from The Mysterious Castle in the Carpathians (1981)

BACKGROUND:

INDELIBLE IMAGE: For all the incredible gadgetry that appears in The Mysterious Castle in the Carpathians, the most unforgettable one may be the tiny pistol, no larger than a thumb, that the count pulls out to protect himself at the first sign of danger. (The bullets would have to be about the size of water drops, and locating the tiny trigger would be a chore).

TWO WEIRD THINGS: Eyes and ears on a staff; desiccated diva

WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD: The Mysterious Castle in the Carpathians is the steampunk, slapstick Czech parody of Gothic literature you never knew you needed—until you heard it described in just those words.

Restoration trailer for Mysterious Castle in the Carpathians

COMMENTS: The Mysterious Castle in the Carpathians is the last entry in a loose Czech trilogy parodying genres popular in the West: Continue reading 47*. THE MYSTERIOUS CASTLE IN THE CARPATHIANS (1981)

10*: THE FABULOUS BARON MUNCHAUSEN (1962)

Baron Prásil

366 Weird Movies may earn commissions from purchases made through product links.

DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: , Jana Brejchová, Rudolf Jelínek

PLOT: An astronaut, Tonik, discovers that he is not the first man on the Moon, having been beaten there by literary figures Cyrano de Bergerac, Jules Verne’s protagonists of “From the Earth to the Moon,” and Baron Munchausen. Mistaking the astronaut as a native moonman, Munchausen volunteers to take him back to Earth to show him the ways of earthlings. The pair there rescue a princess from a sultan and are swallowed by a fish, among other fantastic adventures.

BACKGROUND:

  • The character of Baron Munchausen comes from  Rudolf Erich Raspe’s 1785 novel “Baron Munchausen’s narrative of his marvellous travels and campaigns in Russia.” Raspe based Muchausen on a real-life German officer who was notorious for embellishing tales of his own military exploits. Czechs traditionally called the same character “Baron Prásil.”
  • Munchausen’s stories have been adapted to film many times, beginning with a short in 1911.
  • Karel Zeman’s previous film, the black and white Invention for Destruction [Vynález zkázy], won the Grand Prix at the International Film Festival at Expo 58, and was considered the most successful Czech film of all time. Baron Prásil was even more ambitious, adding a luscious color palette and expanding on the techniques Zeman had pioneered in his previous work.
  • Home Cinema Choice named The Fabulous Baron Munchausen‘s 2017 remaster the best restoration of the year.

INDELIBLE IMAGE: Red smoke billowing in a yellow sky as the Baron and companions escape on horseback.

TWO WEIRD THINGS: Cyrano and pals on the Moon; Pegasus-drawn spaceship

WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD: Baron Prasil is a stunning visual feast combining live-action and animation, the effect far surpassing the modest means (by then-current standards) with which it was made.


Trailer for the restored version of The Fabulous Baron Munchausen

COMMENTS: “If he’s endowed with such imagination, let’s see some Continue reading 10*: THE FABULOUS BARON MUNCHAUSEN (1962)

228. LEMONADE JOE (1964)

Limonádový Joe aneb Konská Opera [Lemonade Joe, or the Horse Opera]

366 Weird Movies may earn commissions from purchases made through product links.

“What was before my eyes was both familiar and eerily strange.”–Danilo H. Figueredo, in Revolvers and Pistolas, Vaqueros and Caballeros: Debunking the Old West, on the experience of seeing Lemonade Joe in Cuba

Recommended

DIRECTED BY: Oldrich Lipský

FEATURING: Karel Fiala, Olga Schoberová, Rudolf Deyl, , Kveta Fialová

PLOT: A lemonade-drinking cowboy rescues a beautiful temperance worker from rowdies in a tavern. Impressed with his heroism and trick shooting, the town opens an all-lemonade saloon, which upsets the local whiskey barons. With the help of a prostitute Joe has scorned, they scheme to kill the teetotalling hero and make Stetson City safe for intoxicating spirits once more.

Still from Lemonade Joe (1964)

BACKGROUND:

  • The word “limonádový” actually translates to “soft drink,” not “lemonade,” but there can be no doubt Lemonade Joe has a better ring to it than Soft Drink Joe.
  • The Lemonade Joe character began his life in a series of stories by satirist Jiří Brdečka. The stories were then adapted into a 1946 play, a short series of animated shorts, and finally into this hit movie.
  • Co-screenwriter/director Oldrich Lipský was the artistic director of Prague’s Satirical Theater. He went on to direct several popular and critically successful films, including Happy End (a 1966 experimental film that plays backwards) and Mysterious Castle in the Carpathians (1981).
  • Although the Western had been a popular genre in Czechoslovakia in the early part of the 20th Century, largely due to the writings of German pulp author Karl May, Western films had been banned through the German and Soviet occupations. They only began to be screened again (and then rarely) in the 1960s.
  • Czechoslovakia submitted Lemonade Joe to the Academy Awards, but it was not selected for the Best Foreign Language Film competition.
  • This movie was a huge hit in its home country—the biggest-drawing film of the 1960s—and remains a cult movie there to this day.

INDELIBLE IMAGE: Lemonade Joe and his nemesis—who is outfitted in blackface because he has been posing as Louis Armstrong for a duet with Joe at the piano—square off in a shootout. The gunfire’s path appears onscreen as dotted lines so that we can see that the bullets are striking each other in midair, leading the duel to end in a draw.

THREE WEIRD THINGS: Fiddle eating; Czech blackface; dotted bullets

WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD: Communist propaganda, surreal Czech sensibilities, and an honest appreciation for the entertainment value of early Hollywood films collide to create a homegrown retro-Western musical spoof that could almost have come from the mind of Guy Maddin.


Clip from Lemonade Joe

COMMENTS: You hear the names Milos Forman, , Continue reading 228. LEMONADE JOE (1964)